Thursday, December 12, 2019
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Universal Credit: Family of terminally ill girl struggling to make ends meet after payments stopped

Universal Credit has been widely condemned by charities and others for pushing vulnerable people into abject poverty.

The family of a terminally ill youngster says the Government’s flagship Universal Credit programme has left them unable to pay bills and at risk of poverty, it has been reported.

Brendan and Kelly-Anne Shortall’s daughter Hannal, aged just 10, are struggling to make ends meet under the new system, which has been widely condemned by charities and campaigners for pushing vulnerable people into abject poverty.

Hannah’s father was forced to give up working as a lorry driver to care for his terminally ill daughter, who suffers Duchenne muscular dystrophy – a severe type of muscular dystophy that takes the lives of thousands of people world-wide.

The couple have been told by the Northern Ireland government that they will not receice their next payment of Universal Credit following an internal error which meant they had been overpaid.

Mr Shortall told Belfast Live: “Our money started to drop month by month, and at the start of this month we were told we would receive £622 that was to do us for the month.

“When our first payment was due this month I went to the cash machine and there was only £109, and we were due to get half of £622.

A near empty food cupboard. Photo: Oxfam.

“So I went straight into the job centre in Lurgan and asked them what was going on and they couldn’t tell us, they got on to the Newry office which is head of finance and they decided to pay us a further £145 because they ‘forgot to pay it’.

“That was all sorted out and we were told we would get the remainder of the £622 in the next payment. So I went last week to collect the payment and again it was only £109.

“I went back to the office in Lurgan and basically they don’t know but they reckon that we have been overpaid in the system and the system has just taken all of our money and they couldn’t figure out how to give us any more money.”

He added: “We contacted Newry and they couldn’t give us any answers and basically they’ve come back to us and said the only way they can give us any money is to take out a budgeting loan.

“Basically, they told us the way the system is going we will receive a zero payment for next month because once the system figures out that I’ve got another loan it will take back everything that I owe because of the overpayment.

“They basically told us we’ve no payment for next month and they can’t understand and they can’t fix it on the machine.”

An NI Government spokesperson said: “The Department is implementing Universal Credit in line with the policy and remit set previously by the Northern Ireland Executive.

“The Executive agreed a number of important measures to assist customers by paying Universal Credit twice monthly in arrears and paying the housing element of Universal Credit directly to the landlord to prevent potential issues with rent arrears.

“Whilst we cannot comment on individual cases, we are aware of the particular details of this case and have been in direct contact with the customer and will continue to engage with them to address any concerns they have.”

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